Thursday, June 13, 2024

‘Ezra’ (2023)

Heartfelt with barbs of dark reality, this latest directorial effort from Tony Goldwyn (“A Walk on the Moon,” “Conviction”), the guy who played the bad guy in “Ghost” (1990), details the strains on those caring for a neurodiverse child. The child of the title (William A. Fitzgerald), a precocious 11-year old who’s been reading The New York Times cover-to-cover since he was 5 and will eat food only with plastic utensils, is fairly high on the autism scale. Mom (an understated yet affecting Rose Byrne) and dad, Max (Bobby Cannavale), a struggling comedian looking for his big break, have split, but co-rear Ezra. Push comes to shove when outbursts at school lead to the suggestion of medication. Byrne’s mom leans in, but Max is having none of it and pretty much absconds with Ezra on a cross-country road trip with the hope of an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” An Amber Alert is sent out as they cross the Mississippi. If that sounds a bit like a “Thelma and Louise” (1990) chase, it’s not – it’s more a series of smaller, subtle moments as Max and Ezra bond and Max grows in understanding and his need to be better for himself and his son. Despite the film’s title and Fitzgerald hitting a long ball in his big-screen debut, this is Cannavale’s film. He’s always projected a roguish, rough affability with a trace of lowbrow menace, as evidenced by “Blue Jasmine” (2013) and as Joe DiMaggio in “Blonde” (2022); here he takes front and center, a rarity in his long career, and tackles the bigger ask exceedingly well, especially when up on stage working out his life problems. The film’s framed well, even if some of the pacing feels a bit off. Besides Byrne, the supporting cast includes Robert De Niro, fitting like a glove as Max’s father even if the character is underwritten; Vera Farmiga (“The Departed”); and Goldwyn. (Tom Meek) At Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, 355 Binney St., Cambridge.

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‘Atlas’ (2024)

J-Lo’s second direct drop on Netflix does not bode well. Quite the opposite. In the near future, some AI – though not the “house ’bots” – have united under a neural net entity known as Harlan (Simu Liu, “Barbie”) and gone “Terminator” on humankind. The overthrow of Earth never comes to fruition, and Harlan and his minions jump a ship for a deep-space planet uninhabitable for humans to regroup and relaunch. Lopez, who gave it a game go in “Hustlers” (2019) and had a better Netflix vehicle with the assassin thriller “The Mother” (2023), plays the title character, a military analyst whose mother invented Harlan and made it part of the household as Atlas grew up. Now Atlas, whose specialty is AI forensics and profiling (in one uninspired scene, she deals with the decapitated head of one such AI droid, “Alien” style), embeds with a phalanx of special-ops rangers trained to take out AI and their cyber-force army. In this CGI-laden affair directed by Brad Peyton (“Rampage”), the fate of the universe comes down to Atlas in a robotic exoskeleton (think the loaders in the “Alien” franchise or better yet, the battle ’bots from “Pacific Rim” and you’d have the right idea) having a smackdown with Harlan and his metallic posse. There’s some noise about humans and AI neurolinking, even the invocation of science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, and references to smartphones being relics of the past like landlines and eight-track tapes, but it’s all a lazy hack. The thing that’s most artificial about this AI thriller is the script, which has generic platitudes such as “I’ve got this” throughout. There are the names of several writers in the film’s credits, but I would not be surprised if Peyton or some studio exec just dumped “Jennifer Lopez AI thriller” into ChatGPT and said, “Let’s do this.” (Tom Meek) On Netflix.